In an almost exact photocopy of Wednesday’s win by the Dallas Mavericks over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat last night overcame a double-digit deficit with under four minutes to play to defeat the Chicago Bulls, 83-80, in Game 5 of their NBA Eastern Conference final. Miami closed out Chicago in the series, 4-1 and will now face the Mavericks in the NBA Finals, beginning Tuesday night.
Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, during the post-mortem discussion on cable network TNT, asserted that Chicago couldn’t get over the hump with only one scorer – Derrick Rose. It’s true the Bulls have other players who can shoot three pointers, such as guard Kyle Korver, and forwards Luol Deng and Kurt Thomas; but their consistency doesn’t nearly approach league MVP Rose’s 27 points per game.
In the end, Miami’s suffocating defense on Rose at the perimeter, and against Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah inside, when combined with their “big three” scoring attack - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh accounted for 68 of the team’s 83 points - proved too much for Chicago’s relatively youthful and inexperienced squad. And though Rose led the Bulls’ offense with 25 points, he was 9-29 from the field. He also led the team with 4 turnovers – one of them, to James in the final minute, put the Heat ahead for the third and final time.
For the first three periods, Chicago was doing everything right: hitting the boards hard at both ends of the court, playing aggressive defense, and holding Miami to only 38 points in the first half.
That trend continued through the third quarter, but near the midway point in the fourth, one play in particular augured a Miami comeback. With Chicago up a dozen points at the time, Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, apparently out of frustration, clotheslined LeBron James as he drove in the paint, leaving him prostrate and grabbing his neck in pain on the hardwood.
Boozer was called for a flagrant foul, whereupon LeBron promptly made the free-throw and Miami retained possession - ultimately scoring again. This only served to harden the resolve of the visiting team, as the tandem of James and Wade soon went to work whittling down the lead – Wade with three buckets (including a four-point play) and James adding two from beyond the arc. With a half-minute remaining, James, after stripping the ball from Derrick Rose, converted a two-point shot and the Heat went into the lead to stay, 81-79.
Chicago’s NBA coach of the year, Tom Thibodeau, was prophetic following the loss. “We weren’t as aggressive, and that led to some easy scores. But overall, I thought our defense was good. We just didn’t make shots down the stretch.”
Everything else being equal – and this was one of Chicago’s better defensive efforts of the playoffs – you have to rely on clutch players. In Miami’s case, they just had too many veterans who could perform when it absolutely mattered. James and Wade, in particular, helped Miami cap off an 18-3 run late in the fourth quarter that sealed Chicago’s fate.
Having won the Eastern Conference title, Miami now has until Tuesday to take in the media spotlight and rest up for Dallas. However, intense speculation has been percolating over Dwyane Wade, whose sore left shoulder has caused many to question his overall fitness for the Finals.
Though he was able to score a critical 10 points in the fourth quarter, he hit for only one field goal in the first half and had 6 turnovers. To keep up with Mavericks' equally opportunistic and battle-hardened veterans, Wade will need to be 100% for the Heat to have a shot at the title.